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OEM skins are off-limits for Android Wear, TV, and Auto

As Android is moving beyond the smartphone screen, Google is asserting control over the platform in a way that contrasts with its initial “everything goes” approach.
June 30, 2014
moto 360 first look (1 of 12)

As Android is moving beyond the smartphone screen, Google is asserting control over the platform in a way that contrasts with its initial “everything goes” approach.

Last week at I/O, Google unveiled three new implementations of Android designed for specific niches of the budding Internet of Things – wearables, TVs, and automobiles. Several partners have already announced products under Google’s new initiatives: Samsung, LG, and Motorola have Android Wear smartwatches, Sony and Sharp will launch smart TV sets running Android TV next year, and a slew of automakers, led by Audi, will launch models incorporating Android Auto starting later this year.

Amidst the warm reception for Google’s new platforms, one very important detail went relatively unnoticed – OEMs cannot skin and modify Android Wear, Auto, and TV, the way they’ve long done with Android for smartphones and tablets.

Talking to Ars Technica, Android’s head of engineering Dave Burke confirmed that Google will only let OEMs make limited modifications to Android Wear, Auto, and TV products.

[quote qtext=”We want to just have a very consistent user experience, so if you have one TV in one room and another TV in another room and they both say Android TV, we want them to work the same and look the same… The device manufacturers can brand it, and they might have services that they want to include with it, but otherwise it should be the same.” qperson=”” qsource=”” qposition=”center”]

That’s a huge change compared to the massive leeway that Google gave mobile companies back when it was struggling to get Android off the ground. And let’s face it, back then OEM skins were a necessary evil, especially in the Gingerbread days and earlier, when Android was still playing catchup with Apple’s iOS.

With the new multi-screen Android, Google has the upper ground in relationship with OEMs. Android has proved itself insanely successful on smartphones and tablets, and the roles are now reversed. It’s Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony, and their ilk that have to make concessions to get in the Android club.

The Gear Live and G Watch will offer the same UI
Gear Live and G Watch: same UI, different hardware

Having Google at the helm will ensure a more consistent experience for users, and more than that, Google will handle system updates itself. According to Burke, Android TV (and presumably the other new platforms as well) updates will happen seamlessly, the way the Chrome browser updates itself in the background.

The benefits of Google closely controlling its new Android platforms are multiple – less fragmentation, consistency, faster updates, a cleaner design aesthetic, and cross-platform integration. With that said, the other face of fragmentation is diversity, and diversity has helped Android conquer 80 percent of the global smartphone market share.